Don’t confuse this Jura mountain giant with it’s more famous but easier Alps cousin: Col de la Colombière.
I am now eligible to become a “member” of the Confrérie des Fêlés (brotherhood of the crackpots) du Grand Colombier after cycling the two hardest sides of this crazy mountain on a single day.
To become a “master” one must do 3 sides. A “grand master” must cycle all 4 sides in a single day!! Yikes, I am 20 years too old for that. Their web site here.
There are four sides up to Col du Grand Colombier. All four are challenging with very steep stretches. Best of all, the road is near deserted as there is nothing much up top (nice hiking, some cows) and lower roads link the different valleys.
It’s become the feature climb on the last day of the Pro cycling Tour de l’Ain held every August – so there was some graffiti on the roads.
Today I visited the entire mountain, climbing two sides and descending the other two. So here’s a quick overview of all four sides of this monster:
1. East side. Start Anglefort.
Distance: 15.7 km; Ascent: 1251 m; Average % (max): 8.0% (14%)
This was my first time climbing this side. It has the highest average %, and is very difficult from the start. For me, it’s the least beautiful but winds up through nice quiet forests.
2. West side – easier variant. Start Artemare.
Distance: 21 km Ascent: 1300 m; Average % (max): 6.2% (14%)
I then descended the less steep variant of the west side. Because frankly descending the steep variant is asking for trouble. While without a doubt the easiest of the four sides, It is still a challenging climb.
3. West side – steep variant. Start Artemare.
Distance: 15.9 km Ascent: 1251 m; Average % (max): 7.9% (22%)
After reaching Artemare, I started my second climb via the crazy direct west route.
It shares much of the route with the easier variant, but takes a short-cut (see map) that is near madness. This short-cut is just nasty steep – I don’t know a long stretch of paved road steeper. My main goal was just not to put my foot to the ground.
4. South side. Start Culoz.
Distance: 18.3 km Ascent: 1260 m; Average % (max): 6.9% (14%)
For me, this is the most scenic side. The route hairpins up a road cut into the cliff and has beautiful views of the Rhone river, Lac du Bourget, and the redoutable Mont du Chat.
Today, I descended it, but have climbed it in the past. This is the side to avoid in a heatwave as it faces south and lacks shade on much of the route.
Maybe one day I can get up early and try doing 3 sides in a day to become a “master.” But I think all four sides would kill me.
View in Google Earth (requires Google Earth to be installed):